It's that time of year. Your children return home after school or after-school activities and show signs or complain of sore throat, cough and / or runny nose.

Are antibiotics in order? The answer may surprise you.

To better understand if your child needs antibiotics, it is helpful to know the difference between viruses and bacteria, which are the two main types of germs that cause the disease.

Although certain bacteria and viruses cause diseases with similar symptoms, the ways in which these two organisms multiply and transmit diseases are different.

Antibiotics fight bacteria, not viruses.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are living organisms that exist as individual cells. They can live in all kinds of environments, from extreme cold to extreme heat. They are everywhere and most do not cause any harm. In some cases, they can actually be useful, such as when they live in your intestines and help digest food.

Bacteria that are harmful cause disease by invading parts of the body, multiplying and interfering with the normal functioning of your body.

When you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics are needed. They work to kill living bacteria by stopping their growth and reproduction.

Examples of bacterial infections include streptococcal pharyngitis, urinary tract infection, swimming ear and MRSA.

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Infections viral

Viruses are even smaller than bacteria and can not exist in yours Because they need living reproducers like you or their children to reproduce, they are not considered alive.

If there is nothing to cling to, a virus can not survive. Your body's immune system can fight some viruses before they cause disease, but others (such as the common unpleasant winter colds) simply have to run their course.

Examples of viral infections include influenza, common cold, bronchitis, mononucleosis, and hand, foot, and mouth disease

In some cases, it can be difficult to determine whether a bacterium or a virus is causing your child's symptoms. Many ailments such as pneumonia, ear infection, conjunctivitis and diarrhea can be caused by bacteria or viruses.

Your healthcare provider will discuss the treatment with you if your child has any of these diseases.

Ins and outs of antibiotics

Antibiotics are one of the greatest advances in medicine. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year in the US. In the US, 47 million unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics are written in doctors' offices, emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics.

When you or your children use antibiotics frequently or inappropriately, this can cause bacteria or other germs to change, so antibiotics will not work to fight them. This is called bacterial resistance or resistance to antibiotics.

When developing this resistance, these bacteria require higher doses of stronger medications or antibiotics. Due to excessive use, certain bacteria have become resistant even to the most potent antibiotics available today.

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In addition to antibiotic resistance, overuse of antibiotics can lead to other problems.

Antibiotics may kill good bacteria that help keep your body healthy. Your child may develop diarrhea due to a lack of good bacteria that help digest food properly. In some cases, bad bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile (or C diff), can grow in excess and cause infections.

Parents should note that they take antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds, flu, most sore throats and bronchitis:

• It will not cure the infection
• It will not prevent other people from getting sick
• It will not help you or your child to feel better
• It can cause unnecessary side effects
• It can contribute to antibiotic resistance

Also, when children take antibiotics they are at risk of suffer side effects, such as upset stomach and diarrhea or even an allergic reaction.

To combat resistance to antibiotics and avoid bad reactions, we should use them only when necessary and, if necessary, use them correctly.

If your doctor determines that your child has a bacterial infection and prescribes antibiotics, here are some tips:

• Make sure your child does not skip or skip any doses.
• Your child should not stop taking antibiotics ahead of time, unless your doctor tells you to.
• Do not keep any of the antibiotics the next time you or your child gets sick.
• Never give your child's antibiotics prescribed for you or someone else. The antibiotic may not be suitable for your disease or it may be the wrong dose. If they take the wrong medication, it could delay the treatment and allow the bacteria to grow.

Virus treatment

The relief of symptoms is probably the best treatment if your child has a virus. Your children should feel some relief if they do the following:
• Extra rest
• Drink plenty of fluids
• Use a cold mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion
• Soothe throat with crushed ice, ice pops or pills. (Remember: children under 5 should not use throat lozenges).
• Use honey to relieve cough. Ask your doctor how much to give. (Do not give honey to a baby under one year of age)

If your child is diagnosed with the flu, they may be prescribed antiviral medications prescribed for the flu.

Bacteria, virus prevention

Talk with your children about the simple steps they can take to prevent the spread of infections.

Encourage them to wash their hands, make sure they are updated with vaccines and vaccines. , and if they are sick, make sure they stay home from school.

Dr. Kate Cronan is a pediatric emergency physician at Nemours Children's Hospital / Alfred I. duPont and principal editor of KidsHealth.org.

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